Denis Hamlett feels that he is well prepared and has done his homework to become a sporting director. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
By Michael Lewis
Front Row Soccer Editor
The world of Major League Soccer certainly can bring some unusual situations on the management side.
One day Denis Hamlett is working as an assistant coach working under head man Jesse Marsch. The next day he is Marsch’s superior as the team’s sporting director.
Welcome to Major League Soccer’s and the Red Bulls’ unusual management twists.
That might sound like an uncomfortable proposition, although Hamlett says that should not be a problem. He cited the many years he and Marsch have worked together.
“What you guys don’t know, Jesse and I, we have the utmost respect for each other,” Hamlett said in his first conference call with the media after he was named Red Bulls sporting director Tuesday. “It starts there. That’s the key. In the end, I’m the sporting director and I’ll make the decisions. The most important part is that we have a good relationship and respect for each other.”
Hamlett said that he and Marsch have had a professional relationship for more than two decades, going back to when he was an assistant coach with the Chicago Fire, when Marsch was a player. He was an assistant to Marsch when he directed the Montreal Impact.
Now, the positions are reversed.
“He’s going to report me,” Hamlett said. “The important thing is that it’s a partnership. We sit down, have a discussion, put things on the table. We’re going to make the right decision on what we think is best for the club, the organization and the team. ”
Hamlett added that he wanted to “make sure there’s always communication with him and the support staff. I think that’s something we did when I was assistant coach.”
Except now Hamlett has the last word on player personnel decisions, instead of just having input.
He replaced Ali Curtis, who lost a power struggle with Marsch over player transactions, specifically the Dax McCarty deal. Curtis reportedly wanted to keep McCarty, then the team captain, and deal away Felipe. Marsch wanted to retain Felipe, who played for him in Montreal.
Hamlett was the Red Bulls de facto sporting director from mid-January through Tuesday while Ali Curtis was removed from the position and negotiating his exit.
He wouldn’t comment directly about following Curtis’ direction, although it sounded like he was on the same page, using homegrown talent and younger players instead of constantly spending huge amounts of money for foreign players who could become big flops when trying to bolster the roster.
“The important thing that I was able to take away from my visits to Austria and Germany was a clear vision and philosophy and the value of their scouting system, their ability to entrust younger players to play and not [be] afraid,” he said. “Our philosophy is in place. We’re going to play younger players, bring the right players in to fit the style that we want to play. The one thing I give credit to our coaching staff is that they are always challenging in coming up with different ways to expand our players so now when they step on the field they’ll always be one step ahead of our opponents. That doesn’t change. We’re going to be constantly raising the bar.”
He felt the timing was right for him to step into a management role. He cited his experiences — he played one year as an MLS player with the Colorado Rapids in 1996 and was an assistant coach (with the Fire, Vancouver and Montreal), a head coach (Chicago) and as a scout.
“This is an excellent opportunity,” he said. “The timing of it is wonderful. My experience in MLS from the beginning is crucial to my understanding of the league, the personnel, the talent, what it takes to win in this league. I’ve won many championships when I was on staff in Chicago and more importantly, the last two years I got a good understanding of Red Bull Global Soccer. We spent some time in Austria and Germany and really got to see the synergy we have in the organization. It was a matter of perfect timing, where I am in my career.
“I feel confident that all my experiences that I have done has put me … where I feel I can help this club compete for championships and hopefully be one of the model franchises of MLS.”
If Hamlett felt that leap was a daunting task, he did not let it known. He felt the resources the Red Bulls have domestically and globally would help him.
“I think what’s important is that you use all the resources you have available to you,” he said. “It’s a combination of using the resources that we have, using the people that I have within my organization in terms of support staff because I think we have a wonderful support coaching staff.”
Taking over the sporting directors responsibilities officially this week certainly makes for some long hours and little time to rest.
After all, the Red Bulls face a must-score and must-win situation against the host Vancouver Whitecaps in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series at B.C. Place Thursday night. They played to a 1-1 draw in the first leg at home last week.
Hamlett said the first few days in his new role were “hectic.” He cited Wednesday’s roster compliance deadline, when all 22 teams must finalize their opening day rosters and remain under the league’s salary cap with the two road games within four days.
“There are a lot of things that are flying around in terms of trying to get the roster settled,” he said. “There’s a lot of things on the table. It has been hectic, but something that I welcome I’m not getting much sleep, but it’s OK, though.”